Feet on the plain, feet on a train, feet on a bus, feet on a train, feet on the plain
When I asked Paolo whether arcology is possible w/out transit and intra-urban transportation options, he readily agreed that transit is of key importance; in fact, it is essential. (The man is clever, ya know, as well as good-looking.)
Although the menace of our social dependence upon cars is an ever-growing one, the 17% of the planet that I (and likely you, gentle reader) occupy is evidently still oblivious.
But even if our local collection of planet powermongers have their heads stuck in the sand, the lack of political will to strike down the oil beast, to put a silver bullet in its heart by demanding sustainable transportation infrastructures which will allow and encourage arcological development, is a problem that must and can be remedied. I knew this before I was abruptly turned into a non-driver; I know it better, more intimately, now.
Necessity has turned me into not simply a consumer of public transit but an aficionado and an advocate. I don't just appreciate public transit. I'm sold on it, to turn a phrase a tad consumeristically.
I depend upon it. I NEED it.
I'll include Greyhound in that category even though it is a private company. (Alas! When it went belly-up some years back, it refused a buy-out offer from its employees, which would have made it not only the largest bus company in the world but probably also the largest employee-managed company in the history of the world. Dow bought it cheap, held it briefly, sold it high to Laidlaw.) I know a lot of people look down on bus travel, and in a way I can understand why, but - honest, it isn't Greyhound that sucks. It's the collective disdain for alternatives to car travel that does.
Between trains and planes, trains are the way to go. A train can take 1000 people 1000 miles on 300 gallons of diesel fuel. Every time a jumbo jet goes up in the air, it gushes out the equivalent of 30,000 car exhausts.
But - this a BIG but - you can't have rapid movement on the passenger train systems in this country as they are right now for two reasons: one is political, the other physical. 1) is complex: Trains carrying human beings have to give way to trains carrying freight. 2) is simple: Friction.
But in a way, of the two, the former could be a relatively easy fix, it seems to me. Turn Amtrak into a real 'leisure class' system. Upgrade the rolling stock, restore its first class service, connect it to all the National Parks it goes through along all its routes. Promote it at home and abroad as first-choice vacation travel, which it can be and should be. Let it carry mail again. A train's baggage cars, like melodies, were made for this. (People don't mind slowing down if they are riding for the pleasure of riding. Who'd want a cruise ship to get where it's going ahead of schedule?)
As for the latter: simple, as I said. You can't run fast trains on existing track. Too much friction. Period.
So, here's what we could do:
Remember how Dubya gave the poor, suffering airlines $12 billion after 9/11 because the industry was suddenly in dire straits, too many people didn't want to fly to get where they wanted to go after four big ones got hijacked by single-minded tough guys w/ box cutters?
Not a penny of that money, ya know, went to the ground crews, the baggage handlers, the stewards, the pilots.
Therefore: at the same time we're validating our existing passenger rail system by reaffirming its high class history, we take the same amount of money Dubya gave away (that we didn't have then, either, BTW; we were a nation of debtors then and we still are, only more so), bu we put it - we invest it - where it will give us all a serious return on our money. We invest it in R&D for high speed rail. A maglev system or the like, that can run alongside (or on) every interstate in the country.
You want economic recovery? Jobs jobs jobs?
Oh puh-leeze, this is a no-brainer. How did we get, over a hundred years ago, to where we once were (back in the day or in the first place)? How do we recover our manufacturing and service sectors? How do we revitalize our workforce?
High speed rail is how. Tune your head, tune your feet.
My mid-winter walkabout went like this: I got a lift to Gallup (yes, in a car, not a hot air balloon: my housemate was driving to Albuquerque, she dropped me off since it's on the way). I boarded a train the next day, got off in LA, got on another one that took me to Seattle. Friends met me at the station (in their car), took me home for the night and got me to the Clipper, a passenger ferry, the next morning. So I crossed the border by water: my favorite mode, really. It was like crossing the International Date Line: Poof, you're in another day! Poof, you're in another country. The Clipper takes you from Seattle right to downtown Victoria, BC, on Vancouver Island. My purpose there was to see my friend Dennis. I spent a few days there, saw other friends in Victoria. I had hoped Dennis would travel with me to the Kootenays but when he decided he wasn't up to a trek and insisted I go anyway, I went by bus up-Island to Nanaimo; from there by bus on a car-ferry to Vancouver for a holiday stopover w/ friends of long standing, then a train to Bellingham to meet up w/ a friend driving to Nelson, BC, by way of Spokane, WA. Bus from Nelson past Winlaw to Slocan City, younger son Jacob, who's in business as an electrical contractor, comes down by car from New Denver, scoops me up to his home by the shore of Slocan Lake. Kootenays is also home is home is home...I even get to hold a flashlight on an electrical installation for him. Hang with my old pals, get reorganized, trek back to Dennis in Victoria by way of Vancouver by car - on highway 3 in BC, w/ a stopover in Grand Forks to visit w/ Bryn Wilkins and Suzanne leClerc of Vazzy, their amazingly intelligent beau-sejour musical team. Catch up w/ friends in Vancouver, hie over to Victoria by bus, stay over a few days w/ Dennis, see our dear friends together. Make a commitment to him that I will come back to stay with him forever, will care for him and take care of him; but I must go back to the Rez to pack up my stuff, then go to NY to file my taxes and clear the building permit I'd had to get for work I was doing on my house. I get a lift back to Vancouver w/ a friend who drives, board a train to Los Angeles with a stopover in Seattle, where I am given a lift to my friends' place from the train station by a woman I'd been talking w/ on the train. This is especially welcome as it's snowing a lot more than it usually does in Seattle, which means my friends cannot come to fetch me because they cannot drive in snow and there's no public transit available when we get in 'cause the buses don't run all night. It's snowing enough to keep me there longer than I'd expected to be. This turns out to be very cool as I get to help take care of a particularly nice Labradoodle, a breed of dog I already have come to like. Cool. Seattle to LA by train is nifty and because the connection between the Coast Starlight and the Southwest Chief (the names of the trains imply first class, which takes me back to my earlier point) - entails a layover, I spend a night at a pleasant, inexpensive-with-a-touch-of-bygone-elegance downtown hotel that's "European Style." Cool. I get to see one of my architecture school pals, with whom I have lunch and who takes me to see Frank Gehry's new building, the Disney Symphony Hall. This also turns out to be cool. Very cool. Dennis would approve. LA to Gallup is the last leg and, although I'm ready to get back to where I'd started out, something transformational, I know, has happened. I'm not quite the same person I was when I started out. I'm totally ready to move on and, in fact, having said that I can and will, that is exactly what I do. I am down with packing up my stuff from Fort Defiance, take what is going to go back to Canada to my gal pal in Gallup, leave it with her in her garage, carry what needs to go back to NY on board the train with me and in baggage. Packing to go two directions at once is tricky but heady.. Goodbye, friends on the rez. Goodbye, rez. For now. Because nothing is forever, right? I hope someday I'll find out why the Navajo Tribal Chairman saw fit to 'thumbs-down' an opportunity to provide people on the Rez with free solar power.